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A system of largely unregulated group homes provides poor living conditions to people throughout the country who are grappling with substance abuse, homelessness and a return to life after prison, according to Salon.com.

These “sober homes” do not provide treatment on-site, but many require residents to attend outpatient therapy. In New York City, these facilities are paid for largely through welfare, disability payments and Medicaid. They are not licensed or overseen by any city or state agencies. Some advocates say the houses institute rules that violate patient rights and tenant laws.

Well-run sober homes can help people in recovery, says Dr. Leonard A. Jason, Director of the Center for Community Research at DePaul University in Chicago. They can help residents develop a sense of responsibility, and provide them with skills and confidence to live productively. “If it’s a really well-run sober living home, that house could be a place of real health,” he notes. “It can be done right, but it can just as easily be done very wrong.” Jason recently wrote a policy statement, “The Role of Recovery Residences in Promoting Long-term Addiction Recovery.”

Complaints about sober homes have surfaced in communities including Los Angeles, Long Island, and Boston.

In New York City, people come to sober homes from hospitals, social services agencies, prison, and the street. New York Attorney Matthew Main of MFY Legal Services, which has brought suits on behalf of sober home residents, says the system addresses a need, but can also be harmful to the people it claims to help. “This system is like a conveyor belt that grabs the most vulnerable people from our communities,” he said. “It takes people who don’t have anywhere else to turn, stuffs them into these dilapidated apartments, and has them stay there to attend a treatment program only for as long as it’s necessary to recover. And then spits them out.”


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